Stress Awareness Month
Updated: May 4, 2021
Life’s stressful enough during a normal year, isn’t it?
Work, family, friends, plans, schedules, obligations. . .depending on the person, the stressors may change – but it’s virtually impossible for someone to feel no stress for more than a short period of time.
That’s life. The things that we can find the most fulfilling, may also be the most stressful. Sometimes it’s not a bad thing, while other times it can be life-altering and cause more harm than good.
But this past year?
It’s a whole new ball game. In a research survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, over 50% of Canadians have reported worsening mental health since the pandemic began, with some reporting their stress has more than doubled from the beginning of 2020.
April is Stress Awareness Month, and we want to touch on a few different topics.
We’ve all heard the same advice before – more self-care, less overwhelm, take care of yourself and don’t worry too much. But has that really helped you? Let’s get more specific and hopefully give you some real tools to not only deal with stress but identify it before it’s too late.
The term “stress” actually hasn’t been around for as long as you may think. About 50 years ago, Hans Seyle, helped define stress in terms of a psychological response, as opposed to physical strain. Now in 2021 it seems like everywhere you turn; people are talking about stress, writing about stress and pretty much are stressed.
Stress can be broken into two categories: eustress, which is positive
and distress, which is negative.
Eustress (stress which is successfully managed) enables us to adapt easily - improving resilience and performance. Distress (stress which isn’t successfully managed) can negatively impact both your psychological and physical well-being. This is the stress you need to avoid.
Genes (those things you get from your parents) can play a major role in whether or not you feel stressed easily. Certain genes show an elevated response to stressful events - making some people more sensitive than others. So, you can rest assured - if you feel like you may get stressed out quicker than the average person – it could be all in your genes. Does this mean you should just accept living with a high level of stress? Absolutely not, and we address how to manage stress later in this blog.
How to Identify When Your Stress Is Starting to Become Too Much
Living in a perpetual state of high stress is not good, but neither is a sharp or even gradual increase of stress. When there is no traumatic event that triggers stress, often times we miss out on the warning signs that we’re reaching our breaking point.
Here are a few signs and symptoms of too much stress:
These can either be a symptom of stress or a trigger for it.
In a recent study, 45% of people who had reported feeling over-stressed also reported suffering from frequent headaches. Tension and TMJ headaches are some of the most common, as we naturally react to stressful situations by tensing our muscles and clenching our jaws.
As a trigger, those who suffer from chronic headaches, cluster headaches and migraine disease are commonly predisposed to increase levels of stress. This is most often due to the feeling of lack of control – essentially not knowing if they are able to complete a task at work, keep plans with friends or really how they are going to feel each morning.
If you are experiencing worsening or new headaches – assess your stress levels to see if they could be a factor. A trip to your family doctor is a great first step to feeling better.
If you are experiencing stress due to headaches, again your family doctor may be a good person to touch base with. Another great option is seeking counselling from a psychologist or other mental health therapist. Using talk techniques to decrease stress due to your condition and being provided tools to aid you in navigating your physical pain can both be incredibly beneficial. This type of therapy also works great for those suffering from chronic pain due to stress! Oh, and we can help too! Regular massage and acupuncture treatments can give you a reprieve from the pain cycle and help you have better "good" days!
2. Decreased Energy and Insomnia
Chronic fatigue and decreased energy levels are widely associated with prolonged and high levels of stress.
As our bodies are constantly in a battle between fight, flight and rest – there doesn’t leave much energy for work, fun or activities.
Eating healthy, ensuring you are not dehydrated and including physical activity into your weekly routine are great ways to increase energy, but if your home remedies aren’t working – it’s time to make an appointment with your health professional.
Insomnia can also play a factor in decreased energy levels or be a symptom all on its own. Anxiety at night, worry over the current affairs of the world, employment and the wellbeing of friends and family can create an inability for someone who is suffering from stress to relax.
Listening to an audio book to take the focus away from your worries, reading or even playing nature sounds before bed can be first great steps to try to aid in elevating your sleep habits. And the truth is, putting that phone away and decreasing screen time before bed really does work.
If you’ve tried all forms of sleep hygiene and still aren’t able to sleep, make an appointment with your physician promptly. Insomnia can have devastating consequences to one’s mental health and can cause physical accidents due to your body finally shutting down.
3. Appetite Changes
We may be tempted to automatically blame COVID for a weight change, but what part of COVID is causing it for you? Yes, the restrictions on indoor activities have caused some to be less active, but it may be that the stress from COVID 19 that’s to blame for your fluctuation.
Stress can cause both weight gain, and weight loss. Some find they eat even when they aren’t hungry when stress levels become too high, while others take the opposite action decrease their food intake for reasons such as nausea, anxiety, or in some cases – a feeling of having control over at lease something.
While we know for fact that appetite changes can alter weight due to stress, there have also been reports of increased stress hormone levels (hello Cortisol) causing weight gain. If this is something you are interested in looking into – contact your Naturopath and they can test and treat for hormonal concerns.
This ones’ pretty straight forward. Have you noticed you are snappier lately? Losing your cool on your friends, family or co-workers? Or have they told you your behavior has changed?
When stressed, we feel we need to get things done. Often with disregard for our reactions or consequences (to an extent). We are just too busy to acknowledge that we should have taken a breath before responding to a question, or an outburst seems completely acceptable for some spilled milk.
No, you’re not a monster. But this is when you start to take a look at your stressors, and your stress levels. Even the most chipper, chill person can bend under stress.
Look back and see what situations are making you cranky most – and perhaps there’s something you can do to decrease the stress around those activities. Another option is to get moving – endorphins are the happy hormone, and they are most frequently released when you get your blood flowing.
5. Rapid Heartbeat and Sweating
Just like anxiety, high levels of stress can present as a fast-beating heart or increased sweating. Nausea, tingling in the hands or numbness, buzzing in the ears and shaking are also signs of stress induced anxiety.
These symptoms and signs may be a bit scarier than those previously touched on – and they do warrant a swift response for treatment.
Any combination of, or sudden onset of these symptoms means it’s time to call and make an appointment with your family physician. If you are unable to meet with them at a time when you are suffering from heart palpitations, shaking or have severe agitation – head to the walk-in clinic or urgent care and let them know what is going on. Anxiety and panic attacks can become severe and dangerous. Your MD can create a plan with you to decrease your stress, handle anxiety attacks and refer you to a specialist if necessary.
There are so many signs and symptoms that your stress is becoming overwhelming and detrimental, many more than what we just touched on. A good rule of thumb is to be mindful of your stress levels. Don’t just brush off the feeling that you’re busy or that it is normal to be in distress. And be alert to any changes you experience. Noting new feelings, symptoms and odd events is one of the best ways for you to gauge your stress level. No one person is identical – and the symptoms of stress can vary from person to person.
So How Do We Combat Stress?
No, we aren’t going to tell you to do yoga and meditate – although these are both effective for some when they need to reduce stress.
Key word – some.
1. If you are truly going to take a motivated stab at getting a handle on your stress levels, the most important action you can take is to find something that suits you, and your lifestyle.
So, if stretchy pants and the sound of waves crashing into the beach aren’t your thing – don’t worry, we’ve got some other options.
(Hey, if they are – keep it up! Yoga and meditation have actually been proven to be great tools to combat stress, anxiety and depression!).
If you’re a crazy busy person who struggles with finding time for yourself – look into some of the activities you can do throughout the day, at home or on the go to battle stress.
Audiobooks in the car after you’ve dropped the kids off.
Meal planning on Sunday so you won’t be stressing for the rest of the week when 5pm comes around.
Getting up an hour earlier to hit the treadmill or just run or walk around the block.
Even if you are incredibly busy, make sure you put some tasks that will relieve your stress in your calendar. If they are blocked off as a to-do, you will be more likely to look at them as a task, instead of self-care or self-indulgence. Still need to trick yourself into making time to decrease stress?
Repeat after me:
“I am more productive when my stress level is manageable”
Have you been working/living/relaxing/parenting/sleeping/eating in your house 24/7? This tip to decrease stress is obviously our favourite:
If you’ve followed our social media for any period of time or have met our team in person – you probably know we love the outdoors.
Social distancing is easier outside, and as the snow melts and the weather warms you will not only be providing your mind with an opportunity to relax but will also be doing your body some good by moving your joints, strengthening muscles and increasing your Vit D levels!
We have lots of great walking paths around Calgary, huge dog parks and a beautiful river to sit by. And obviously, we live so close to the mountains – how could you not enjoy them?
Dedicating at least a few hours a week to outdoor activities will give you the break you need from the four walls of your house and the stress that comes with it now being your office, day home and kids school are rolled into one.
What if you are missing community and are stuck in your own thoughts? Call your friends, have a socially distanced visit or walk, don't lose touch with your family and don't hesitate to give your co-worker a call when you have something blow up at work - you'd vent to them if you were in the office, wouldn't you?
Speaking of work. . .
2. Creating a balance or boundary between work and life
You need to treat work as you would if you were actually in the office!
In a survey of Canadian workers, where 81% reported that the pandemic is negatively impacting their mental health, indicating a significant drop in overall worker mental health since the beginning of COVID 19.
That’s not good. We don’t have the connection with our co-workers, the breaks for lunch or the quiet commute to decompress.
And from what we have heard – employees are feeling obligated to always be available. That needs to end. The computers need to be turned off, the phones muted, and you need to take your darn lunch breaks!
Walk around the block. Utilize the auto-response. Set a timer each other to just breath and stretch. Start work at your normal time, not when you just wake up.
You may be working from home, but it doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to be working 24/7.
3. Chill out on the beverages (and all other recreational substances that is)
Zero judgement. That’s not our job, it’s not in our scope of practice and we definitely aren’t here to cause more stre